The Bible’s View
Should Children Be Spanked?
YOU may have been present when unruly children were noisily disturbing all those nearby. “If they were mine,” you might have thought, “I’d warm their bottoms good.” On the other hand, perhaps you saw a parent angrily beat a tired or sick child whose crying sparked the parental explosion. You may have felt that parents should not be allowed to spank, for it often leads to brutality.
There is no denying the fact that deciding how to discipline is one of parenthood’s most difficult decisions. Should spanking be used? Or is it simply another aspect of home violence? (See pages 3 to 19.)
Many persons, including child specialists and psychologists, are opposed to parents spanking children. In Science News (March 4, 1978) Dr. R. S. Welsh wrote: “The acceptance of corporal punishment in both the home and school should no longer occur.” Some claim that spanking teaches bad lessons—that the stronger can rule by force and that angry violence is suitable conduct.
However, other authorities think differently. Quoting Soine Torma, director of the Northwestern Child Guidance Clinic, a newspaper stated: “‘There has to be discipline, there has to be order.’ This extends to spanking he said, so long as ‘you spank for the misbehavior.’” And, in Dare to Discipline, Dr. James Dobson writes:
“It is possible for parents to create hostility and aggressiveness in their children by behaving violently themselves. . . . However, when the child has lowered his head and clenched his fist, he is daring the parent to take him on. If the parent responds appropriately (on the backside) he has taught the child a valuable lesson that is consistent with nature’s method of instruction.”
Actually, God’s Word is the best source of advice on child discipline, for Jehovah God both originated the human family and has observed in billions of cases what brings success or failure.
Jehovah, a God of love, counsels parents: “Do not be irritating your children, but go on bringing them up in the discipline and mental-regulating of Jehovah.” (Eph. 6:4) Discipline—instruction or training that molds—can be an expression of love. We read: “‘My son, . . . whom Jehovah loves he disciplines.’ . . . True, no discipline seems for the present to be joyous, but grievous; yet afterward to those who have been trained by it it yields peaceable fruit.” That is so in the family, too.—Heb. 12:4-11.
But does loving discipline include a parent’s use of spanking? According to God’s Word, it definitely can, when the spanking is an expression of and in a manner consistent with love. Consider these verses from the inspired book of Proverbs:
“Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.” (22:15) “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.” (23:13, 14) “He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.” (13:24)—New International Version.
While such references to the “rod” could cover various forms of discipline from parents, physical chastisement is certainly included. Whether they do it with the hand, a wooden ruler or some other type of appropriate “rod,” parents are authorized by God to use spanking in lovingly disciplining their children.
The Bible, however, helps parents to avoid going to excesses by offering strong counsel against giving way to violent anger. (Prov. 16:32; 25:28; Col. 3:8) If a parent, ignoring this counsel about controlling anger, fiercely hit a child in an outburst of fury, that would be contrary to what God’s Word says about discipline being an expression of love. The Bible in no way endorses angry whippings or severe beatings that bruise and can even cripple a young child. That is child abuse, not loving discipline.
A wise parent recognizes that there are various ways to correct or punish a child. Sometimes just a firm word will do. In other cases a disobedient child may be briefly isolated. When a child spills or breaks something through childish carelessness or irresponsibility, often it is most effective to make the child clean it up or work to replace it, if feasible. Of course, flexibility is important, adapting the discipline to the situation and the child; what works with one may not work with another.
Yet, even as the Bible shows, spanking does have value as an occasional form of discipline, especially for young children. As they go along, most children will, time and again, challenge their parents’ authority, testing to see if they “really mean business” and deserve respect. Even nice children may say, “You shut up!” or “No, I won’t do it!” One doctor explained that it is as if the child knows where ‘a line has been drawn on the ground’ and yet crosses it to see what the parent will do. Can the child get away with it? Who is in control?
Particularly with very young children, such a challenge is not necessarily a time for an abundance of words. A spanking may be in order. No, not beating a child into submission, but a firm spanking sufficient to underscore who has authority.
As any tears subside, the parent can lovingly take the child into his or her arms. With quiet words, or just a warm embrace, the parent can say: “I love you too much for you to grow up without recognizing authority and the need for respect.” These are also choice moments to offer guidance that will touch the heart. After one father read in Science News the previously quoted view about avoiding spanking, he wrote to the magazine:
‘When my children were outright disobedient, my wife and I pointed out the reason for the violated rule and the child acknowledged the need for the penalty. Once, after the agreed-on number of smart spanks had been delivered with the paddle, my son (about 6) crept into my lap, hugged and kissed me and said, “Daddy, I guess I’ve learned my lesson.”’
All around us we see the sad consequences of excessive and misplaced permissiveness. So we should be able to appreciate the truthfulness of the Bible’s statement that “he who loves [his child] is careful to discipline him.” (Prov. 13:24, NIV) It is truly loving for parents, in a child’s early years, to commence helping the youngster to recognize authority and to realize that there must be reasonable limits to freedom. The brief pain of firm but not harsh spankings when a young child needs such is certainly better than the grief that comes if, in teen-age or later years, he has not learned those lessons.
It takes real effort for parents to spank wisely—to avoid letting misplaced affection cause them to refrain from spanking, and yet to control themselves so that they do not let spankings lead to brutality or child abuse. But the counsel from our Creator, and the good effects forthcoming, prove that this effort is worth while. As Today’s English Version renders Proverbs 23:13, 14: “Don’t hesitate to discipline a child. A good spanking won’t kill him. As a matter of fact, it may save his life.”